FARMINGTON — The town’s planning board approved a condominium project on Main Street that a small group of residents had opposed, saying it will ruin their quaint downtown community.

Board members unanimously voted Wednesday night to approve building the condominiums behind the existing building at 223 Main St., which houses apartments and office space.

The approval came after a series of lengthy meetings about legal questions raised by the project, and board members said it may be time to rewrite some vague and confusing town ordinances.

Chairman Clayton King called it the toughest decision in his five years on the board. The board had to navigate a flood of legal challenges and other claims that poured in from those opposing the project.

“We certainly have some things to tweak,” he said.

Bill Marceau, the condominium project property owner, described the approval as the end of a long, frustrating process. He believed the group opposing the project didn’t reflect the feelings of the rest of the community.

“Unfortunately there was a minority of residents that had some issues with the project,” he said after the meeting. “I’ve got the full support of the community and this unanimous approval by the board helps show that.”

Marceau plans to build a six-unit building for residents age 55 and above at an overall cost of about $700,000, he said.

He said the project will meet a dire need for housing in town for this age group, which is based on a recent market study he conducted for his rental business and other development projects.

The units will sell for $150,000 to $185,000, with the price varying because of the difference between two one-bedroom units and four two-bedroom units in the plan, he said.

Marceau, who is a member of the planning board, recused himself from discussions about the project. Board member Craig Jordan also recused himself and alternates Gloria McGraw and John G. Edgerly voted Wednesday to approve the project.

Marceau also owns Foothills Management Company, which has a number of rental properties in Farmington, and said he is a partner in another proposed elderly housing project, Willow Springs, on Fairbanks Road.

Christie James, who lives next to Marceau’s Main Street property, has been the most outspoken opponent of the condominium project. She hired an engineer and attorney to review it and submit official challenges and questions to the town board before the decision.

After the vote Wednesday, James declined to say if she would appeal the decision.

“We need some time with it,” she said, after looking at her attorney, David Sanders.

James runs Western Maine Osteopathic Healthcare out of her home next to the planned condo site.

Planning board members approved the project after making decisions on several legal issues, many of which were raised by James and Sanders.

A question James asked about whether the property is in the village business historic district prevented the vote scheduled for Monday. She said the project didn’t fit in with the rules and intent of preserving the historic character of the downtown community.

At the start of the meeting Wednesday night, board members supported an opinion by the town’s attorney, Frank Underkuffler, that the property, and other similar lots along Main Street, do not fall within the historic district because the town’s zoning regulations don’t allow them to be included in that designation.

James had suggested that a group of lots that extend between Main and Front streets downtown should be within the village business historic district.

Town officials used zoning maps to show the lots are in the village residential district, which is a designation that prohibits them from also being included in the historic district.

Their decision kept the project from having to meet certain rules tied to maintaining the historic appearance and features of properties in downtown, which are part of the historic district.

Other legal issues tied to the project addressed everything from driveways and parking lots to public safety and new construction on properties that don’t meet certain town regulations.

The existing lot and building at 223 Main St. can break certain town regulations because they are grandfathered — in other words, the land was developed before current ordinances were written. Many of the legal decisions made by the board addressed that issue.

Underkuffler told the board Wednesday that its decision on the project could have a significant effect on future development in Farmington.

King and other board members made comments supporting the condominium project, but they also talked about possibly changing ordinances to avoid misinterpretations of the approval.

Before adjourning the meeting, King said he plans to schedule meetings to review town regulations.

 

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]


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